I had a sense of VIP snobbishness after picking up Toyota’s 2017 hydrogen fuel cell Mirai from the valet at an airport parking lot in Los Angeles. Maybe it was just the fact that a Tesla Model X driver was staring at the Mirai that gave me that idea. But after an hour or two of driving on packed southern California freeways with all the conventional gas-fueled cars and more pedestrian hybrid and electric vehicles, I quickly forgot how remarkable this experience was. After all, the Mirai is essentially an electric car with one major difference: instead of plugging in to charge the onboard battery, which powers the electric motor that drives the front wheels, electricity is supplied by a hydrogen-fueled fuel cell that produces only water as a byproduct.
I began to like the Mirai’s quiet operation, smooth ride, and tech features, which reminded me of the Toyota Avalon Hybrid ($34,639.00 at Truecar) over my two-day test. While EV charging facilities are scarce, public hydrogen refueling is much more so, which is why the Mirai is now only available in California, which is the only state with enough infrastructure to support enough fuelling stations for regular travel. While the Mirai’s performance isn’t very impressive, I did enjoy the odd looks from LA’s green car elite.
Design and Pricing
The 2017 Toyota Mirai is a limited-production vehicle with only one trim level ($34,639.00 at Truecar). There are no further choices on any of the models. The MSRP is $57,500, plus $885 for shipping, processing, and handling, for a total price of $58,395.
The Mirai has been aggressively sponsored and rewarded. Toyota offers a $5,000 California rebate and $7,500 in “Trailblazer” support, as well as free fuelling for three years or up to $15,000, whichever comes first. California residents can also obtain a coveted carpool lane sticker, which allows single occupants to circumvent traffic jams on the highway.
17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, wide-angle LED daytime running lights, heated and power-folding outside mirrors, keyless entry and ignition, engine stop-start, a rearview camera, front and rear parking sensors, noise-reducing windshield and side-door windows, eight-way power front seats, heated front and rear seats, and a heated and power tilt and telescoping steering wheel are all standard on the 2017 Mirai. On the tech front, there’s Toyota’s Safety Connect telematics system, as well as its Entune infotainment system with apps and navigation and a premium JBL sound system with AM/FM/HD/satellite radio, USB and aux inputs, and a premium JBL sound system with AM/FM/HD/satellite radio, USB and aux connections. Front-collision warning with automated emergency braking, lane keeping assist, rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, and auto high lights are just a few of the driver aids available.
151 horsepower is generated by the fuel-cell electric powertrain. Air is fed to the fuel cell stack via massive front intakes, which generates power by mixing oxygen with hydrogen from two onboard tanks. A power control unit decides whether to transfer electricity straight to the front-wheel-drive electric motor or to store it in an onboard battery, which is also recharged by regenerative braking and assists during hard acceleration.
If the Hindenburg comes to mind when thinking about hydrogen-fueled automobiles, the Mirai’s three-layer, carbon-fiber wrapped, polymer-lined tanks, according to Toyota, are built to resist five times the crash energy of steel. In the event of a high-speed collision, sensors shut off the flow of hydrogen from the tanks, and all hydrogen-related parts are positioned outside the passenger cabin to prevent any leaked hydrogen from accumulating.
From the outside, the 2017 Mirai may be mistaken for the latest-generation Prius, with its low-profile headlamps and gaping front facia, but with more distinct rear quarter panel creases. The dashboard of the Mirai is made up of a befuddling combination of angles, while the central stack is made up of a succession of cascading screens. I found the inside to be spacious and well-equipped, and was surprised to see features like a heated steering wheel and back seats in such an environmentally friendly vehicle.
Connectivity and Interface
For both its versatile and straightforward UI and subscription-free connection, we think the Entune infotainment system is top-notch. On the 7-inch touch screen, you can select to display up to three main menu items, and icons in the Apps menu can be adjusted. Entune apps allow you to access streaming music, local search, and other linked services using your smartphone and a companion app. HD Radio offers additional complimentary features such as weather and traffic updates.
One disadvantage of the Entune interface is that, in comparison to tactile buttons and knobs, the capacitive touch controls that flank the touch display might be difficult to operate on the fly. The climatic functions lower down in the dash are the same.
The Toyota Safety Connect telematics system, which includes automatic crash notification, emergency and roadside assistance, and stolen vehicle location, is free for the first year of ownership. However, Toyota does not provide a remote app that allows users to lock/unlock the car’s doors or locate the vehicle using a smartphone. However, the Entune system does have a hydrogen fuel station locator app, which is useful considering the restricted availability of hydrogen fuel stations.
Conclusions and Performance
When I pressed the pedal on a long, empty interstate on-ramp, the Mirai felt sluggish with only 151 horsepower driving the two-ton, Camry-sized car. That was true even when Power mode was activated, which doesn’t make a significant difference above Eco mode. It does, however, have enough speed to navigate LA’s roads, and the suspension strikes a wonderful balance between driving feel and comfort.
It takes around five minutes to fill the Mirai’s dual hydrogen tanks from empty, after which the car can go more than 300 miles. Even the fastest electric vehicles can take up to 30 minutes to charge, and only a few can travel more than 100 miles on a single charge.
Although the Mirai has competition in the form of the Honda FCX Clarity and the Hyundai Tucson FCEV, it remains the only fuel-cell vehicle available for purchase rather than lease. Even with subsidies and incentives, buying a Toyota Mirai requires being environmentally concerned and comfortable with the thought of being a guinea pig, not to mention being a California resident. However, it’s wonderful to drive a car that few others have, and it’s even nicer to know how seldom you’ll have to gas it.